6 Questions: One-on-One with John Hall, CEO, Gone in 30 Entertainment

The TV ad as long-form entertainment.

‘When American Idol had Simon Cowell drinking Coke while giving his critique, it was just terrible,’ says John Hall, CEO of Toronto-based Gone in 30 Entertainment. It negatively affected the show’s credibility, Hall says. And he should know. The Carleton University grad has worked in the advertising and marketing industry for over 20 years and is a former VP of marketing for McDonald’s. He says Gone in 30 calls what it does ‘branded entertainment.’ The 2-year-old company does ‘neither product placement nor infomercials,’ Hall says, characterizing the former as deceptive and the latter as instructional but not entertaining. ‘Branded entertainment is enjoyable, and it airs during prime-time hours.’ It hasn’t been easy for Gone in 30 to get its clients’ shows to air on traditionally risk-averse TV networks during prime-time, but the results are in the numbers. La Collection , a reality show that features fashion designers competing for a design contract at The Bay, airs on Quebec’s TVA; Gone in 30 says the show helped The Bay’s Quebec region surpass its sales target by 8% between Q2-Q3 2009. Canadian Business Online asked Hall six questions.

What is the greatest challenge currently facing Gone in 30 Entertainment, and what are you doing about it?

Our biggest challenge is getting the word out, and letting everyone properly digest the exact definition of branded entertainment. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but it’s been six years since I came up with this idea. Having patience is key. Three years ago, I went to the MIP Festival in Cannes, and no one knew what I was talking about. Last year, branded entertainment got some attention. Now, people are starting to take us seriously. In April 2011, I’ll be a keynote speaker at this year’s MIP, so I’m spreading the word internationally. In about two more years, I’d like to hear people joke, and say things like, ‘I can’t believe someone used to think product placement was branded entertainment.’

Who else — person or company — do you feel is doing innovative work and in what way?

[Procter & Gamble’s] Old Spice brand did a really cool job not of branded entertainment, but of touch-point marketing, across different media platforms. They took a very innovative approach to a very old brand. They made it entertaining, and I think that’s really brilliant.

How would you describe your leadership approach or style?

I’m persistent. I don’t take no for an answer. I lead by example, and I have a vision. My vision is what motivates the people I work with. I’m a very open person. I don’t believe in push strategies; I believe in pull. We spend most of our life working, so why not make it fun? I like to attract people around me that make work fun, that buy into the vision. I work best with people who take a ‘giddy-up’ approach to work.

People spend hundreds of dollars per month on cable and satellite bills, yet almost all TV shows can be found online for free, which points to a migration away from paid services. How do you expect this trend will affect broadcasters and advertisers?

TV networks have always had the power. They’ve always been able to call all the shots, but that’s changing now. People are going online, and people are using services like TiVo, that allow them to fast-forward right through commercials. It will affect advertisers in the sense that no one will be watching their ads. It will affect broadcasters because the production of their shows is paid for by advertisers, and if advertisers pull their ads, they’ll lose their main source of funding. That entire model is broken, and too many people are dragging their feet to make a change.

Gold has been reaching record highs over the past several weeks as people run to it as a store of value. Overblown fear or prudent investment strategy?

More and more people have been burned by the markets, so they’re opting to buy something that they can physically hold onto. I think there are a lot of people that thought they really understood the markets that are now shaking their heads and calling themselves fools. A lot of people have come to the conclusion that investing is legalized gambling. I think that’s why real estate is booming, too. People can see the investment. They think it’s a logical approach. I think that the U.S. economy is in a worse state than everyone believes. I definitely think there’s going to be a double-dip recession.

If you could be a guest star on any TV show, which one — excepting those you’ve been involved in — would you appear in and why?

I’d like to be on The Daily Show because I just love it. I like it not just because it’s funny, but also because they do talk about matters of importance — in a fun way. And that’s my personality. Can you set that up for me?